How to Beat Bad Bob Fair and Square
© 2007 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2007
Author: Carla Rautenberg
How to Beat Bad Bob Fair and Square
Four Dealers Reveal How They Compete With Bad Bob
By Carla Rautenberg, DAS Special Correspondent
Thanks to the Bad Bobs and their Yellow Pages schemes, many consumers now view the garage door industry with skepticism. But some dealers are learning how to fight back to reclaim the confidence of consumers and lost market share.
Typical Horror Story
Here is a common Bad Bob scenario, courtesy of Kevin Pettiette, an IDEA-accredited dealer who owns and operates Smokey II’s Doorman in Phoenix, Ariz. He heard the sad story from an elderly landlady whose tenant had reported a garage door that was hitting the ground too hard.
The landlady looked in the Yellow Pages and called a company that advertised 24-hour service. She provided her credit card information and asked them to take care of the repair.
You guessed it. Although repair parts were readily available, this Bad Bob replaced the entire opener and charged a whopping $1,300 for the job.
“They replaced things like drums, which don’t wear out,” says Pettiette. “In 26 years of doing this, the only drums I’ve ever had to replace are ones I have broken in the course of a job, and I put them in for free because I broke them!”
Many dealers could cite dozens of horror stories like this.
The question is, how do reputable, ethical door dealers compete with these bad apples? To find out, we spoke with Kevin Pettiette and three other dealers located in some of the markets most afflicted with Bad Bob operations.
Compete on Price?
Not one dealer we interviewed has adjusted pricing in reaction to Bad Bob. All of them concur with Chris Fletcher, owner of Texas Overhead Door, who declares, “Price fairly. Don’t compete on price. You deserve good margins because you have an obligation to your employees and your customers to take care of them.”
Expanding on that theme, John Nale, executive vice president and general manager of Overhead Door Company of Atlanta, points out, “We continue to use fair pricing based on our cost of doing business. Since we only use employees (not subcontractors) and company vehicles and maintain physical locations, obviously we’re going to have more overhead than a lot of unethical competitors.”
Change Advertising Strategy?
Since the cornerstone of Bad Bob’s strategy is a heavy reliance on Yellow Pages advertising, we wanted to know if these dealers had ever decided to wage a Yellow Pages ad war or try a different advertising strategy.
“Consider alternative marketing outside of the Yellow Pages,” advises Nale. Overhead Door of Atlanta, an IDEA-accredited dealer, is located in one of the original cities hit with “Bad Bob’s Yellow Pages Scheme.” Several Bad Bob spin-offs use similar tactics in the area, and large Yellow Pages ads continue to flood the phone books.
Nale says his company’s initial response to Bad Bob was to continually upsize their Yellow Pages ads. It became an ever-escalating expense.
Instead, he suggests, “Use radio and TV for name recognition and even billboard and print advertising. We hope customers will use the white pages to find us alphabetically, so we go with a bold listing. And when a logo is allowed, we spend the extra money on it.”
Going Head to Head
Kriste LaMay, president of Broten Garage Door Sales, disagrees. “I continue to stay strong in the Yellow Pages because [the Bad Bobs] do,” she says.
Her voice is warm with pride when she talks about her Pompano Beach, Fla., company. The dealership is IDEA accredited and was founded in 1955 by her parents, Steve and Shirley Kalenich. But barely concealed outrage simmers in her tone when she refers to those she calls “the Yellow Page bandits.”
One such bandit started using her mother’s slogan, “Broken? Call Broten. We open doors for you,” changing just the company name in their Yellow Pages ad. Broten sued and won a judgment forbidding the “bandit” to use the slogan in future ads.
“You have to go head to head with them,” she maintains.
Florida is the home state where the Bad Bob strategy started in the mid-to-late 1990s. Most major Florida cities are now hotbeds of activity for the “Yellow Pages Scheme.”
Broten asks every telephone caller, “How did you hear about us?” For October 2007, calls from previous customers totaled 1,400; 458 calls resulted from stickers on Broten-installed doors, and 409 callers cited the Yellow Pages.
LaMay points out, “That’s more than 400 calls we would have missed without the Yellow Pages.”
Fine-Tune Advertising Content
Dealers agree that they must employ every possible means of distinguishing themselves from Bad Bob. That means print ads, broadcast ads, and Web sites should prominently feature:
· Your company’s address
· A photo of your physical location
· Your license number (not just the phrase “licensed and bonded”)
· Your company logo
· Authorized manufacturers’ logos
· IDEA accreditation
· IDA membership
· Number of years in business
In most cases, Bad Bob cannot legitimately claim most of these details.
Kriste LaMay and John Nale agree on the importance of branding and presenting a polished company image. They both point out that their service technicians are uniformed and their vehicles are logoed.
Nale notes, “With 100-plus trucks in Atlanta, we have moving billboards all over town, which help with brand recognition. Every year, we distribute several thousand little refrigerator magnets in the shape of service van. That’s an inexpensive way to get your phone number in a consumer’s home.”
Kriste LaMay pays attention to details such as the presentation folder her sales staff shows to each customer. Like the company’s letterhead, the folder is imprinted with logos designating Broten’s IDA membership, IDEA accreditation, and major manufacturer affiliations. It also features photos of Broten’s trucks and facilities.
Educate, Educate, Educate
The Phoenix, Ariz., region has been an epicenter of Bad Bob activity for years. Kevin Pettiette of Smokey II’s Doorman says his response has been to provide “more training to office and field personnel on how specific we have to be when we explain labor and parts pricing. We want the customer to know exactly what to expect.”
Kriste LaMay agrees that training staff is essential. She also believes in educating her customers. “I’ve put some consumer tips into our on-hold message when you call.”
On its home page, the Overhead Door Company of Atlanta Web site displays the click-on text, “Top Ten Tips for Choosing a Garage Door Company.” The page includes “Five Red Flags” and the full text of our “Bad Bob’s Yellow Pages Scheme” article (spring 2003), reprinted with permission from Door & Access Systems.
“If you have a problem, I make sure you know where to find me,” stresses Kevin Pettiette. “It means a lot to customers that they can talk directly to the owner of the company.” And, for a homeowner, that’s a dramatic contrast to trying to track down a Bad Bob to do warranty work.
A frequent Bad Bob tactic is to advertise using a name identical to or very close to that of an established dealer. It happened to Chris Fletcher in Texas. The primary Bad Bob that Fletcher faces is the same one exposed on NBC’s “Dateline” program in 2002. Yet all that negative publicity hasn’t slowed down Bad Bob.
He just changed his company name shortly after the broadcast. Throughout the country, Bad Bob often has several DBAs (“Doing Business As” names) that make him a moving target for anyone trying to hunt him down.
When Fletcher’s phone stopped ringing one day in 2006, he discovered that consumers had complained to the Better Business Bureau about “Texas Overhead Door.” Although that had been Fletcher’s company name since 1986, Bad Bob had simply appropriated it.
Customers who had been burned by Bad Bob’s Texas Overhead Door had taken their complaints to the BBB. “At first,” he says, “the BBB had us confused, and we took a hit. But the BBB was good about fixing that.”
Fletcher’s own response was unusual. “In several cases, we’ve actually fixed doors that Bad Bob messed up, and we didn’t charge the customer anything. We’ve had to do things like that to clean up our reputation—which was being ruined by Bad Bob.”
Now, the top of Fletcher’s Web site boasts this slogan: “Work hard, Do your best, Keep your word, Never get too big for your britches, Trust in God, and Never forget a friend.” These hometown values help to differentiate the good Texas Overhead Door from Bad Bob.
Be Visible in Your Community
Here’s another sound piece of advice. Distinguish your company from the Bad Bobs by doing something that can’t be faked: direct community involvement. Texas Overhead Door is located in Burleson, a town of 25,000 south of Fort Worth.
“The key is to be local so that people know you,” says Chris Fletcher, but he concedes that’s easier in Burleson than in Dallas-Fort Worth, where there are 300 door companies. He is involved in activities at his church and the area schools. He hires students from the local high school when he can. And Texas Overhead Door sponsors a hole for the local charity golf tournament.
John Nale concurs: “We support different school systems, homebuilding-type golf outings, and Special Olympics types of events.”
“There Oughta Be a Law”
“What we need is legislation so that these guys pay dearly for what they’re doing,” Chris Fletcher maintains. “Not little piddly fines. I mean something that would really get their attention.”
Many in the industry may agree, but it doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.
When his business name was first hijacked, Fletcher called the attorney general in Texas. “They told me I wasn’t a consumer, and it wasn’t my place to make a complaint. They figured I was just a disgruntled competitor.”
He concedes that, with more and more Bad Bobs operating across state lines, state legislatures and attorneys general are becoming less relevant to the situation anyway. Nevertheless, dealers, consumers, and trade industry groups should keep the issue in front of their representatives and public officials.
“Bad Bobs are running the same scam in water heaters and appliances,” Fletcher notes. And, as reported in the fall 2007 issue of Door & Access Systems, Bad Bob has also invaded the locksmith industry nationally.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With no sign of comprehensive consumer protection legislation on the horizon, the dealers we interviewed do not see Bad Bob riding off into the sunset.
“As the industry and consumer behavior evolve, so will Bad Bob,” says John Nale. Since the consumer chooses the vendor, Nale says good dealers must continually teach consumers the benefits of selecting a reputable company and the dangers of falling under the spell of Bad Bob advertising.
Chris Fletcher has become philosophical: “You learn that you don’t have to have every sale. It’s not about 90 percent closing ratios. It’s about getting the 50 or 60 percent closing ratio at a price that is conducive to running your business.”
And he adheres to another principle that has stood him in good stead during more than two decades in business: “Don’t make your competitors your enemies. With the exception of a Bad Bob, I try to have a good relationship with all my competitors. They’re trying to feed their families, too.”
Character Will Prevail
In summary, our four dealers basically recommend a similar approach. In the long term, they view this battle as a test of character, and character will prevail.
Reputable dealers must consistently practice professionalism internally, provide excellent service to customers externally, and generate a steady flow of positive advertising that clearly states their company’s strengths. Hopefully, Bad Bob’s tactics will eventually cause his own undoing.